As some of you will know, the last 3 months of my life have been incredibly tough. Just 12 hours after the Eisbären season came to an end, I was sitting in a hospital in Northern Ireland visiting my Granda who had just been diagnosed with terminal & aggressive cancer. We didn’t tell him I was coming home. Only 3 people knew of my last minute trip home. Over the next month I ended up spending more time in Belfast than in Berlin, travelling between the 2 cities almost every week. It became somewhat of a normal way of life.
Then just a couple of days after my birthday he sadly passed away. From receiving the news to arriving at my front door in Greenisland was just 14 hours, the wonders of modern transport helping me get back to spend time with my family when it mattered most. Those weeks racked up quite the credit card bill, but it was worth it to spend an extra few days and moments with the most important man to ever be in my life, and to share in the many stories and memories people had about him.
I decided to continue on what would have been our third annual trip to Normandy for the D-Day commemorations in early June. He had repeatedly told me to still go regardless of his health situation, but with him not there it was a strange experience. Seeing the outpouring of love and respect from not only the group that he annually travelled with, but also the group of people from Saarbrücken and their incredible gesture of holding a moments silence for a man they only seen 3 days a year made the week an incredibly memorable one.
During the week I scattered some of his ashes on the D-Day beaches at Arromanches, as despite not serving during World War 2, he always loved his annual trip to France with some of his best friends. And Arromanches has, in his opinion, the best mussels in France, so it seemed like the perfect place for part of him to forever be resting. Seeing the faces of all his friends filled with tears was something I will never forget. Ian Crangle, my grandas annual room mate for these trips, and the company bugler, played an emotional rendition of ‘The Last Post’. Bystanders all stopped for a moment and looking out over the sea. It seemed like time stood still for the minute I was on the beach, and I hope I made him proud.
Then exactly 2 months from his passing, the entire family got to say their goodbyes as the remainder of his ashes were spread to sea at Carrickfergus, a place he called home for over 50 years.
For those of you who never knew Alan Hamilton Senior, he was a great man. To summarise his life in just a single paragraph is a challenge, but I will give it a try!
Born in 1938, he grew up in a Belfast suburb before lying about his age in order to join the British army. He joined the Royal Ulster Rifles where he served during the Cypriot war of 1957/58, and also in British occupied Wuppertal in Western German in 1960. He returned to Britain to marry my Grandmother Iris in 1963, raising two daughters and working as a Texaco fuel tanker driver. He reached the level of branch manager before stepping down to spend time with his now extended family of grandkids, but also to take care of my grandmother Iris, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimers. She passed away in 2004, and the void in his life she left behind was noticeable. If anything he started working even more then with the Royal British Legion. He became chairman in 2006, a role he proudly held for 10 years until his death. He was also a main organiser behind the annual Armed Forces Day in Carrickfergus, even bringing the famous Red Arrows display team over in 2013.
I was very close to my Granda, and the last 2 months since his passing have been extremely strange. No longer receiving the weekly whatsapp message about a random topic has been a strange void in my life. And I just know he would have been constantly on the phone to me about the Northern Irish football team in the Euros, as he always had immense pride in his national team, no matter what the sport. Plus, he would have loved that England v Iceland game!
It was tough to say goodbye to a man who was effectively a father for me. He taught me most of what I know today. The realisation has hit hard that I am the last remaining Hamilton to continue our family name, a name which he single handedly built up to its current status and reputation in his local community. And not only that, but to live in the shadow of a man who had so many friends in so many places, is going to be an incredibly tough job.
If I can even be half the man he was, I will be happy.